I’ve been volunteering with the ICHH for over a year now, usually doing one night a week with the walking teams. There’s normally five to six on a team and we carry clothes, toiletries, food and hot drinks to give to people who are sleeping rough and also to people who we meet that are hungry or staying in hostels. We do a count of the people we meet that are sleeping on the street and are usually the last outreach teams out at night in the city.
We follow certain routes in the city and we are usually out walking until about one or two in the morning. The week before the first lockdown you could feel the change in the city, the streets were empty apart from homeless people and people buying and selling drugs. There was a sense of danger in the air and as a walking team we felt quite vulnerable, so after we relayed our concerns the decision was made that only vans would go out from now on. It has been such a strange time, as though we have reached the future, that science fiction film has arrived and we are all in it. Suddenly there are rules for entering the building, wearing PPE gear, masks and using hand sanitizer. Everything is a risk to your health and the health of everyone you meet.
We are all threats. I was lucky that no one in my household had any conditions so I could keep volunteering. I was in the outreach van the night the lockdown was announced, it felt like the end of the world. We had to tell clients as we met them that the lockdown was happening and their reactions were full of fear, confusion and worry. They really felt forgotten, all shops were closed, no people coming into town, no other source of food besides the few charities and soup runs that could stay operating during this time. Nowhere to wash or shower, no water to drink and no toilets. That was so shocking that people had been left forgotten without the basic facilities, with a tiny bit of thought there could have been water fountains put up around the city with clean drinking water and public toilets, even if they had to be manned they could and should have been placed around the city. They got them up quick enough for the shoppers.
One man who slept by the famine statues on the quays refused food as he had nowhere to go to the toilet, the irony of it. The average amount of people sleeping rough that we engaged with per night was approximately 110. When we do our rounds people are so grateful and appreciative of the contact and care taken by the volunteers, we get to know most of the people who are living on the streets and witness how isolated they are feeling.
All really thirsty and hungry during this time, most had not showered since the beginning of the lockdown and their pride and dignity had been stripped away. It was an unimaginable situation where people were left with nothing in an empty city.